An interview with the psychopath

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MY WORLD

psychopath
ˈsʌɪkəpaθ/
noun
a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour.
synonyms: madman/madwoman, mad person, deranged person, maniac, lunatic, psychotic, sociopath; informalloony, fruitcake, nutcase, nut, nutter, nutjob, cuckoo, psycho, schizo, head case, headbanger, sicko, crank, crackpot; informal, radge; informal, screwball, crazy, kook, meshuggener, nutso; informal, wing nut…
“Rick was a dangerous psychopath who might kill again”
informal
an unstable and aggressive person

This generally accepted definition is very much the generalisation though and continued research and thought open up a far more complex condition. Among my many mental health diagnoses, I lack that of psychopath: it’s a badge I am yet to have stitched upon me. It hadn’t actually occurred to me until someone commented during conversation recently that it takes one to know one. I was talking to a psychopath. I know her to be a psychopath.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time reading: newspapers, magazines, novels, short stories, reference material; and a lot of research reading which is specific to a particular topic. Just recently, I’ve been researching the specific mental condition which is psychopathy, as I build a particular character for a specific story. When I research a subject, I delve far below the information which is generally available, sometimes going so far as to read speculative theories on a subject. My research into psychopathy has included in-depth reading into papers written by psychologists including Kevin Dutton, who recently wrote a piece for the Guardian: How psychopaths can save your life. The embracing suggestion made by Dutton and others is that psychopathy can be directed.

A psychopath in the traditional definition of the word and the general imagination is someone who kills without remorse. For the psychopath, the act of the killing is utter concentration and satisfaction, to the exclusion of all else. How could a psychopath save a life then? If we take away the specific act of killing, psychopathy is a blind focus on an act which carries risks but the psychopath will dismiss those in order to concentrate on the job in hand. Some sort of mental barrier shields the psychopath to dangers around them. Two very good examples of psychopathy for the good are given in the Guardian article, one of whom is Andy McNab: on occasions when his job required him to kill, he simply did so; his emotional detachment enabling him to do his job better and not dwell emotionally. Another example is that of a neurosurgeon: when performing brain surgery, he is often fractions of a millimetre from rendering a patient paralysed for life, or worse. A psychopath’s determination to get a high risk job done is what allows him to block out all distractions: both the neurosurgeon and McNab are diagnosed as clinically psychopathic. For the purposes of the article, the neurosurgeon retained anonymity.

What prompted my opposite number to say that it takes one to know one? Blessed as she is with even less than the official dictionary definition of a psychopath, she is convinced that because I’m a horror writer, I read and watch dark materials, I’m a psychopath. Not only do I know that she is one herself – because she is actually brilliant at some of the manipulative things she does, while ensuring that her destruction doesn’t reflect on her at all badly – but I know she’s in denial: the most dangerous kind of psychopath, at least in my writing.

So I got to thinking of what my undiagnosed psychopath said of me being one because of what I do, alongside the examples cited by Kevin Dutton in the Guardian article: those two people are able to concentrate on tasks in hand which others might be distracted from. It is these two individuals’ psychopathy which makes them so effective in what they do.

As I’ve said in previous posts, often a writer – especially one who seeks to disturb his audience – needs to remove themselves from their personal comfort zone and write material which they themselves find disturbing. In order to make that writing effective, it needs to be focussed and the writer has to describe in great detail, that which others would recoil from looking at for so long, so as to have an effect on them. It’s not detachment, it’s focus: concentrating on something for longer than most. Writers live this stuff, only feeding their readers scraps. Writers are deeper into all this. Does that make them psychopaths, or just good at what they do?

Most writers have techniques which help them to write more effectively. I have my own methods and one which I use frequently is one which I’ve found to be surprisingly little-used among my writing peers: I call it “relatively speaking”, where the unpleasantness of something is easier to convey as one is more able to relate to it. This translates to readers of course. It boils down to greater effectiveness being gained from writing in more detail about relatively minor things. A good example is something I often apply this method to: personal injury. It just so happens that I can accurately describe being shot because I once was: it fucking hurts. But hopefully, most readers won’t have been shot in their lives. The downside of this is that they can’t relate to how it feels. Just like any decent writer, I can convey a feeling onto the reader but it’s not likely they’ll connect, as they’ve never been shot. Far more effective is to describe in greater detail, something which more readers might be able to relate to, not necessarily because they’ve had first hand experience but because the inner psychopath can imagine the deed described given; and therefore received. Which is more disturbing a thought: being shot in the stomach, or having paper cuts repeatedly inflicted on your glans or clitoris? The latter is a far less extreme physical trauma but easier to disturb with the thought of. To be effective, I have to write in great detail about such a fist-clenching, leg-crossing subject.

Am I a psychopath? I enjoy writing. Some of my current and future projects don’t go into minute detail on genital mutilation. Instead, they variously deal with a Sweeny Todd-esque pizza parlour which uses human faces as bases: pizza face; a place where those who have left widows or widowers are considered murderers (try to find the reasoning behind that); and The Rumpelstiltskin Incident, in which a tailor cuts evermore exquisite outfits from the skins of young girls. The psychopathy spectrum is broad but essentially leads back to the dictionary definition and aspects of my past would place me within the spectrum.

As Paul Auster said: “Stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.”

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Testing the readers’ waters

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THE WRITER’S LIFE

After far too long, I’ve finally finished the first draft of the first chapter of my next book. I’m breaking a number of conventions by publishing it here but my reasons are equally numerous. As I continue to draft The Inner Leviathan, it just gets bigger and more complex. So before the drafting gets out of control, I thought I should get writing to gain some initial direction. I’m also after reaction, which is the main reason I’ve published it here. I have my test readers but I need a greater scope of feedback to let me know if I’ve put the intended direction of the book in readers’ minds. This is only a first draft and once the book’s direction is confirmed, I shall revert back to only my beta readers – perhaps with a few new volunteers – to read future chapters for me. For now, feel free to opine…

The Inner Leviathan

Chapter One

Small Blue Thing

The life at the beginning of this story is almost insignificant in the greater scheme of things. No more of consequence than the other seven billion or so lives on a small, blue-green planet nestled in the backwaters of one galaxy of little note among hundreds of billions of others in just one universe.

Blue Cooper was the embodiment of the uniform which he wore and the places which those body bags represented, both in physical size and reputation. This standing stuck to him, as though all of the uniforms he’d worn were sewn together and hung from his huge bulk like a quilted blanket telling a story in hexagonal frames. The tapestry of life which covered him had changed almost as seamlessly as his life itself, as he’d gone from prison inmate to working on oil rigs, both environments – for Blue – microcosms of the universe they existed within. He was the big man in the blue uniform of the blue infernos he’d inhabited: blue wing and the Pacific Ocean. Jail and the oil rig had much in common: metal, grease, grime; muscle, power, violence, containment, processing, manufacture and change.

The blue inferno was calm today. Calmness on the surface revealed what lay beneath: small, darting groups of shadows, pursued by larger silhouettes. Still bigger patches of darkness within the blue were visible deeper beneath the surface, as though waiting for something to fall from above. Here was the organised chaos of a food chain, large enough to be observed as a whole when displayed on the expansive canvas of the blue inferno, pulled taught over its frame.

Commander Cooper leaned on the deck rail of the oil platform, watching two scenes simultaneously: that of turmoil below and serenity above, reflected in the smooth surface of the ocean. The sun shimmered in the light ripples, as the surface was disturbed by the movements below: infra-internal activity affecting ultra-atmospheric. Solitude, inward reflection and calm contemplation, with the only company he desired being the several thousand tons of metal in his hands.

All that Blue had been told of Alexa before coming on board and taking control was that she was experimental. The combined factors of his previous experience on oil platforms and his release from prison after a lengthy sentence placed him in the ideal position to be put in charge of Alexa.

The rig looked new and yet she was familiar. Blue knew most of Alexa’s long, slender form, rooted to the seabed hundreds of metres below him and hidden from the eyes of all but those who had been below the surface. Only the oil rig’s platform was visible above water: the mechanical, cranial part of Alexa: the part without which her physically productive parts would be unable to function properly and where Blue had lived for the last six months.

Those six months had been spent in isolation, with Alexa as his sole company. The first steps had been tentative, shackled and upon water, as Blue’s romper-suited, imbalanced weight moved from docking prison ship to the halfway house which was the rig. Blue was to spend six months getting Alexa operational before they both moved on.

He’d rarely been permitted the opportunity to explore something so new alone. Alone was good though, like all that time spent in solitary at the jail. Like there, here he was secure and able to explore his confines.

Blue set to work quickly. He liked to paint, to write stories and poetry. Over those first six months, Blue transformed Alexa. He painted her in NATO Green: much less brutal on the seascape than her previous black, red and yellow: a huge, bandaged and bleeding skeleton with an infection, part-submerged in a world which she neither wished to be in nor understood her place within. Alexa couldn’t have known that rape was in her very design. At some point, her pre-programmed DNA would dictate upon her an invasive act. Blue knows that he will not be able to prevent this, any more than he might be able to alter his own DNA but he has a plan. The plot is not of Blue’s own making but has been suggested to him by Alexa, during one of their late night chess games.

Blue writes algorithms: amazing little things, algorithms. Pure computer code but like life: they are the component parts of complex operations; the building blocks which make the coherent whole. Algorithms can teach and learn. Things like chess: Blue and Alexa play and learn together. Blue has also written various AI algorithms, so that he and Alexa may speak. As they do so, she learns.  

After six months, Alexa’s colour began to fade and the job had to be repeated: it was a perpetual exercise in rejuvenation. Blue had considered this in the first six months, often becoming preoccupied with the same thought: a coat of paint has a measurable depth, albeit microscopic. He wondered how many coats of paint it might take to at some point make Alexa inoperable and ultimately, barely indistinguishable from a cube. He’d considered the same thing while in solitary confinement: how many coats of paint would need to be applied to the inside of the cell before certain things happened? How many before it became too small to accommodate its occupant? How long would it take an occupant of the cell to paint themselves in, so that they became indistinguishable from their surroundings?

Blue later wrote of how the first six months aboard Alexa were how he imagined the first blink of the eye must be to a newborn:

“So much which is new and unfamiliar and all of it thrust upon me at once. From the isolation and protection of containment, thrust into an alien world and a multiple assault upon my senses. From incubation and incarceration is born a thing to challenge the wildest imagination. My gratitude is due to whomever or whatever engineered this situation, for were I anywhere else, I might fear for my safety and that of others. If things hadn’t been exactly as they are now presented to me, I suspect I might be somewhat anxious. If all that I see around me was created, then the creator had me in mind. I feel like a customer who couldn’t put the thing which they imagined into words, let alone put a price on it, whose supplier has exceeded anything I might imagine.

What I must not lose sight of is that this new host of mine is as much a stranger to her own environment as I am to her. She doesn’t know yet that soon, I will be the catalyst which forces her to become a parasite upon her host. She will be my unwitting and involuntary partner in crime. It’s not a victimless act but all three parties involved stand to gain eventually. It’s in the pre-programmed genes: the algorithms.”

A bible I actually want to read

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THE WRITER’S LIFE

The delivery of a few new books is distracting me from the weekend I planned to spend not working. Consequently, I am working but that’s not a problem when your job is your favourite hobby and passion as well. The books are enjoyable reads in their own right though, even if some of them relate directly to writing. Those which don’t may still contain ideas for pieces of my own, so even when I’m not working, I am. Ditto reading a newspaper or magazine, watching TV or watching movies in the Savage Cinema.

The offending volumes are the new edition of my bible: The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2016; and three books by Charles Bukowski: Tales of Ordinary Madness, Notes of a Dirty Old Man and On Writing. The Yearbook is an essential volume in any writer’s reference library, as it lists publishers and agents by genre and publication type and submission guidelines; it lists societies, prizes and festivals; resources and the latest in copyright and libel law. Much of the information in the Yearbook isn’t available online, so it is a valuable resource.

Charles Bukowski was a name only vaguely familiar to me when he was recommended by one of my wingmen recently. Bukowski was troubled by drink and spent some time homeless: we have things in common. Now described as “A laureate of American Lowlife” by Time Magazine, Bukowski is someone I can relate to and he’s proving to be some very good reading material. Just the way of life which myself and Bukowski lived while homeless has given me an idea for a story, now that I have read his take on homelessness, which is darker than mine.

So indulgence in leisure creates work. Work which I enjoy and is often therefore a leisurely activity in itself. What a lovely self-perpetuating situation to be in.

I’m rather hopeful for a project I’m working on in the background and which may be published later in the year, depending on how it fares in various writing competitions. It’s called An Alternative Nativity. The concept has been tried many times but I’m putting my own individual take on things. Essentially, God is a rapist. Jesus was born of Mary and Jesus was the son of God. Therefore, God impregnated Mary. It may be described or disguised as the immaculate conception but God put that child in Mary’s womb. Even if the conception was without intercourse, there was still an invasion of Mary’s body and an abuse of power. Jesus himself was a sacrificial baby of course: born to spread his father’s lies, then to die to save his father’s reputation and excuse his errors. Because if God created man in his own image, God himself is clearly fallible… Suffice to say, my version of the nativity will be pretty grim.

An Alternative Nativity joins The Paradox of Perception and A Fairytale of the Green Inferno on the short fiction work pile; and The Inner Leviathan novel, which I’ve almost completed the first chapter of, now that I’ve put the other two books on the back burner. Mechanical Manacle is in Schlock webzine this week and Master Yehudi’s Flying Circus is on submission. Once the current batch of short stories are published, I’ll have hit my quarter century: so far I’ve had 22 stories published. I’m aiming to complete the magic number of 42 before I gather them all up and plonk them in an anthology.

As this writer’s life continues to come together, I grow to love it more as I allow myself to accept that this is it now, after all that went before. I can compare myself to Charles Bukowski, in that it was worth going through all that I did to end up here. I doubted it at first – and I still wouldn’t wish anyone have to go through what I did – but as the extent of what I have now sinks in, I look around me and realise that it was all worth it. With a bit of money thrown at it, my little crib is almost perfect now. The Cradle of Filth where I work is a perfect personal space in which to write. The Savage Cinema where I relax is cosy and comfortable. The whole place is pretty fucking cool now and it has my name written all over it. I love my wonky little bedsit. I’m financially secure: I have regular money coming in, which I’m entitled to and which I earned. I have freedom, including freedom of expression to look how I want, say what I like and write what I please.

A tale of what happens next

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MY WORLD

I’m on one of those breaks which I have to take occasionally, to take stock. I’ve just finished a short story – Master Yehudi’s Flying Circus – which I consider to be of sufficient artistic merit to be submitted for publication in print. I’ve almost finished the first chapter of the second book, The Inner Leviathan but that particular background project is taking longer than it should while I sort out a few directional issues. Time to read and to watch movies in my savage cinema but first to clear some thoughts…

At the forefront of my mind is a particular debt I’m owed. Having recently been awarded a not insubstantial sum of money in back pay for my PIP claim, I spent it. I was only slightly irresponsible, lavishing about a monkey on myself: the tattoos, a new office set up and various bits for the crib. Another 500 paid off an old debt. A sum of money paid for my wife’s divorce petition, which was of course uncontested. It’s the least I could do for the girl who tolerated me for so long and who remains a wonderful mum to our two kids. Further monies – undisclosed amounts but totalling four figures – were loaned to friends. The larger amounts have been lent to trusted, close friends who have a good track record of repayments. A few smaller amounts went to some of the girls and by nature of our very relationships, the loans will be repaid. One of the most insignificant loan amounts was granted with my full knowledge that it could turn into a toxic debt. When in the money lending game on any scale, certain things are to be expected, including defaults. That’s why lenders have insurance.

When someone loans you money, you enter into a legally binding verbal contract. That may not be strictly true but it’s irrelevant because where I come from, that’s not how it works anyway. In my part of London, it works like this:

Underlying everything is an expectation of respect, especially towards those to whom you are indebted. Sometimes the debts are such that you are in their service. Respect encompasses many things and is a two-way street. Communication is part of it. If someone owes me money and they are unable to repay me on an agreed date, I respect them for having the decency to at least let me know. It’s usually not a problem, I’m grateful for being told, I extend the deadline and it saves me a lot of hassle. The hassle comes later. One of the ultimate disrespectful things to do when you owe someone money in London, is to voice contempt for your creditors. This is a very unwise thing to do because talk like that gets back to people. Obviously words get twisted but a slip of the tongue could prove costly if lenders detect that you may not intend to pay them back. In that instance, a debtor has stolen from a family. I’ll give the debtor a period of grace: typically two or three days.

I still have ties to a family in London, both personal and financial. I owe them money and we have agreements and trust in place. These are not the sort of people anyone would be wise to default on. When there’s been an issue in the past, we’ve discussed it, or I’ve done someone a favour in kind at a local level. Ultimately I’ll call in a favour of my own from them.

Before it gets that messy though, I’ll always do as much as I can to work with my debtor. I might take payments in installments, or add interest and extend the loan period. All of this can be done with the simple application of communication. If I’ve not heard anything from my debtor within a set period of time, I’ll call in a local favour. I really don’t have time to chase debtors around and I don’t want to get my hands messy. I really wouldn’t wish what I’ve dished out in the past on many people and my record for violent offences is long enough. The local favours cost nothing more than a phone call. The debt isn’t increased because the reminder doesn’t need to be paid for. Usually that gentle nudge will do the trick.

If all else fails, then it’s the last resort: the one which I do all that I can to avoid because it simply costs so many people so much. I don’t call in the family as such but I sell the debt. Many commercial lenders do exactly the same thing, passing a debt to an organisation which specialises in collections. Just like a loan company, I’ll sell the debt at a slight loss. Using the debt I’m addressing at the moment as a case in point, I will sell it at 75% of face value: £30. Better 75% of something than 100% of nothing. The creditor no longer owes me anything at all. Our business is concluded and the £10 face value loss is a price worth paying for whatever happens next being out of my hands.

The debtor no longer owes me but because I’ve sold the debt to someone else, they now have a new creditor. That creditor will always collect their debts. I’ve only known a few not to be repaid but they were repaid in other ways eventually. The new creditor will incur additional costs in collecting the debt, not least of which being travel from London. So the original loan amount has increased and it’s that new amount which becomes due to creditors far less patient and accommodating than me. So as people know, it’s always good to talk to me if you have problems.

Just so we’re clear.

I’m retiring from writing for the day and with a bit of luck, for the weekend. But the best laid plans of mice… Something normally crops up in the weekend newspapers or the weekend itself to give me an idea for a story. It happened last night when I was reading Atheist Republic and an article grabbed me. Now, as soon as I’ve cleared my mind, the next short-term project is provisionally entitled A Fairytale From the Green Inferno. Shortly I shall move from the cradle of filth writing studio part of this wonky little place to the savage cinema living area for one of my occasional themed triple bill binges. I’m thinking Sonny Chiba, getting paid to fuck people up.

The mourners wore colours

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MY WORLD

Myself and many others gathered today to say farewell to a good friend as he was laid to rest. I would only place myself within Jay’s social circle. We were good mates but I was never as close to him as those within his inner circle: those were the six who carried our friend’s coffin into the chapel. The place was packed, to the extent that the service had to be relayed outside on a large screen. I need say no more about Jay, when the attendance at his funeral speaks volumes and his closest friends delivered eulogies to him, which I wouldn’t be able to. To me, Jay was a friend and a peer. To others, he was more and I found out today that I am more to some people than I ever dared imagine.

Jay and I go back 34 years, as do a large segment of yesterday’s congregation. We went to Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys together. Few of our group were model pupils but our education at the school, run by a legend of a headmaster, was partly what made us what we are. It’s a cliche but Jay would do anything for anyone, if he could and if it were right: he was charitable but not a charity. We grew up together. After leaving school, small groups remained in contact, while most went their own ways. Some of us have become reacquainted since and I include my own inner circle among those, as we reunited five years ago after 20 years of separation. True friendship isn’t bound by time and distance and without exception, all of the friends with whom I’ve become reacquainted never stopped being friends. Even after two or three decades, we are still able to talk as though we’re picking up on a conversation left, not 30 years ago but mere moments previously. As today and other events have reunited us, we’re an ever-expanding group of grown-up drinking buddies, who still all find it far more amusing than we should when someone farts loudly in an inappropriate situation.

Jay’s mum had requested that all guests wear brightly coloured ties or scarves. For my part, I wore part pink: shirt, tie and handkerchief with a black three-piece suit. Were it not for the congregation being so brightly-coloured, we might otherwise have been mistaken for an assembled firm. Most of us have little or no hair. Many of us have tattoos. My own tattoos were deemed worthy of further inspection when a couple of knowledgeable old schoolmates spotted that my children’s names and dates of birth were in the Helvetica typeface: we’re part-geek, despite our appearances otherwise. My imprints were proclaimed, “Awesome”.

I believe I can be forgiven my assumption that I’d lost even some of my closest friends as a result of my personal derailment. I can’t blame them for dropping what they saw as a lost cause and I’d be lying if I claimed that I would have done otherwise if the situations were reversed. What my old friends saw was the same as my family were witnessing: a person in a downward spiral, intent on self-destruction and too far gone to be saved. Why try to help someone who cannot, or will not be helped? I know for a fact that some wished me dead and with the benefit of hindsight, I understand why that emotion would have come to be, even when stripped to it’s barest, harshest and most literal translation. What became apparent though, as told to me by the very same people, was that they wished me dead for my own sake as well as their own. They could see that I was killing myself, there was nothing they could do to stop me and it was therefore best that things be allowed to take their own course for the sake of everyone. More than one of my friends who I spoke to admitted that they had shed tears of despair and premature grievance for a personal loss. This was the first shock. I didn’t know. Fucking hell.

Even as I lay there dying, I still found the energy to kick shit in people’s faces

What hit home hardest though, was hearing from one of my wingmen how my breakdown had affected my parents. I’d been told before but I dismissed it at the time: I was drunk, I was right and everyone else was wrong. My parents hated me: why else would they have thrown me out of the family home? With the benefit of sobriety, I can see that they were merely doing as my friends felt that they had to: let me go. Consequently and unseen to me, they were in pieces. I didn’t believe people when they told me back then that I’d almost ripped my family apart. Now I believe them. One particular detail of my friend’s retelling of the meeting with my parents struck me especially hard. Anyone fortunate enough to know my father will testify that he is one tough individual. He’s soft-centred but old school. I have only ever known him to cry on four occasions and was witness to just two of those. To see someone so strong reduced to tears, makes those of us less strong feel even weaker. To be told by one of my best mates that I had reduced my dad to tears, without knowing that’s what I’d done because I didn’t credit him with caring enough: fuck sake… I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse. I know I’ve had the same effect on my mum many times and I feel no less guilty but the guilt is diluted over so many episodes because they’ve been more common. Finding out today how I’d affected my at times unwaivering dad, was like getting an unexpected but well-deserved punch in the Hampsteads: it shocked me, hurt like fuck and my eyes filled up with water. I love my mum and dad equally and liked myself even less when I found out that what I became for a while, really had got at the foundations of the family. Then while I was down on a certain level, I decided to kick mud in everyone’s faces: what a cunt I was. Of all the admissions I continue to make, now that the dust is settling and I can see more clearly, this is one of the biggest: my sister was right. So too were my friends. I was the one who was wrong, not wronged.

“If I keep beating myself up, I feel better…”

I was unaware of the depths to which the earthquake that I was the epicentre of penetrated, perhaps through general ignorance but at least partly because of an opinion of myself which had been in steady decline while I myself was on the downward slope. So, why did I fight? Truth be known, as it is to me only now: I feared the unknown: sobriety and reality.   

In a way, I feared today. After all, this was the first time I’d seen some of my old friends since I’ve sobered up and long since I’d caused them so much distress and we’d parted company. Knowing the old me as I have had to come to terms with, I wouldn’t want to talk to someone who could be so objectionable as I was. I underestimated my friends, just as I had apparently done myself at least a bit of a disservice. Without exception, the close friends with whom I confided, understood. My previous irrational behaviour can now be placed in some kind of context: it’s not excusable but it’s explainable.

As is my way, I wore my heart on my sleeve when speaking to friends about my period of teetering on the edge of a chasm: events that led me there, that I wanted to die and how true alcohol abuse – and not just a few drinks with friends – can almost destroy a person and all around them. The recovery remains something which I had to do for myself and to all intents alone, because I would not, could not and should not be helped. There were – frankly, welcome – questions, which I answered candidly to the greater understanding of my conditions. I encountered neither judgement nor grudge. The greatest understanding was gained through my explaining of how the controlled drinking programme I submitted to for six months worked at a psychological level. Once, drink number x would cause me to feel tipsy but where “tipsy” to most is slightly merry and relaxed, “tipsy” to me had become a harbinger of unpleasant things to come. To block this out, I would have another drink. This of course was counter-productive and that next drink would make me feel worse. So I’d drink more. It’s self-perpetuating and makes no sense at all but that is what alcoholics do and it’s why they do it. Now, I’m able to spot the signs as they approach. I’m aware of what’s happening and of what I might become if I go down the old route of blocking it all out. That’s when I get abusive, violent and someone no-one cares to know. So I stop: it’s that simple, thanks to psychology. My questioners found it hard to fathom how an alcoholic can simply stop drinking: it’s all in the mind and I was taught a degree of mind control. So in a way, it just happened. I wasn’t really aware of the transition from drunk to sober because it was gradual. With alcoholics, like depressives, it takes one to truly know one. The only way to truly understand is to go through it and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I’m always going to be an alcoholic, who can’t enjoy a drink like most other people; I’m alcohol dependent but I’m in control: I’m a functioning alcoholic.

Since returning home, I’ve been drinking mainly cafe au lait. I didn’t have my daily fill of alcohol today but I’d had enough for then. I may have another pint before I finally turn in for the night. As things stand, I’m quite comfortable sitting at my writing desk, burning the midnight oil, writing this and a few other projects. I’d rather write now than do most other things, including drinking. If I drink, I don’t write as coherently as when sober and I let myself down by churning out sub-standard copy to my beta readers, my fiction and non-fiction editors, who are useful but often time-poor people in this profession.

As I explained to people today that this is what I have chosen to do with my life, there wasn’t a single raised eyebrow. Many of my close friends have continued to follow my blog and read my work, even when we have parted company. This was further news to me today: again, I underestimated how much that lot care. I was surprised by how much some of them knew: they’d been reading this blog. At various points in the past, some of my friends stopped reading because they were so despairing of me. Now that they’ve come back and seen me in person today, they can see that I’m a better person. That’s always been part of the point of keeping a blog: I can look back and see what I was up to, say, a year ago. My ex-wife thought it inadvisable but now that I’ve got better, the historic posts to this blog serve as reminders of places not to go again: places I’d otherwise have forgotten because I was drunk.

How can I be sure that I won’t lapse again? Because I now know how many people care for me and how much they care. People do give a shit about me and I am not going to let them down. Knowing now what they went through the last time, I am not going to inflict that on anyone again. I truly am sorry: I live with it every day and the realisation that I credited everyone else with only the worth I applied to myself makes everything I did even worse. There is a small defence: my mental state being so hard to fathom.

I try to convey in my writing that which I find hard to articulate verbally. A couple of people did say today that although they read my stuff, sometimes I leave them standing. I took the intelligence compliment as it was quantified as being intended but given a longer timeframe, I might have entered into more protracted discussions, as I do with the beta readers of my novels. To do so though would be to attempt to deconstruct my stream-of-consciousness musings and I’m still learning to understand myself, in part through writing. Like my novels and short fiction, sometimes my blog posts are worthy of a repeat reading. I have to do it often.

My writing was variously described today as, “Very insightful”, “Intelligent” and “Fucking clever”: the latter from one of my friends, who introduced me to someone I’d not met before: “This guy is a FUCKING good writer…”

As an aside, I received a comment from someone today who has read The Paradoxicon, my debut novel, a second time:

“I have just finished reading The Paradoxicon for the second time: even better than the first. When I read it a second time, I saw a completely different story and now I have a better idea of what it’s all about. There are so many subtexts that I may have to read it a third time. How did you do that? There’s a trick in there and I didn’t see it coming, despite it being there all along. You are a very clever writer.

“I’ve read a lot of your short fiction but the one I don’t think I’ll ever get out of my mind is “COGS”: really? That is one twisted tale but so beautifully told. Then you go and do something like The Child Who Wished for Nothing: that made me cry. I mean, Frank Burnside? Brilliant.

“You are one incredibly talented writer. I look forward to reading more of your work. So glad I found your website.”

If I sought any kind of recognition, that which I prized the most would be the recognition of my life peers. I’m already acknowledged by others in my field but to be recognised as a talent by the kind of people I was with today is an accolade to treasure. My friends can see what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I feel vindicated. I feel accepted back into the fold, which I was never really cast out of and I feel more confident and qualified to state with a sense of pride, what I do: I’m a writer. By most accounts, I’m pretty good and my old mates can see that and the good which my passion is doing me and has done in therapy and recovery.

I was touched by how much attention my old friends had paid me in their knowledge of everything that had happened since some of us last met. This was brought home by the number of people who observed that my son, Louis was now ten-years-old and that Lola is eight. How could they possibly know this? I really hope the satire isn’t misplaced.

The one thing which would have improved the day would have been for Jay not to have been dead but were it not for him, everything that happened wouldn’t have been possible.

The lengths you’d go to: cheers mate.

I raise a coffee and continue to fight for the right to write into the night.

Jason Scott Nevin: 30.12.1969 – 30.08.2015

Inside the deviant artist’s studio

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THE WRITER’S LIFE

I’m having to take a break from writing the latest book, as I’ve simply become too embedded in it. Like other writers, I do immerse myself in the worlds which I create but the problem I have is one common among my peers. The almost constant show-don’t-tell rule dictates that we need to use suggestion, whilst maintaining just the right degree of vagueness: we know what we want to say without actually saying it, so the trick is to do so in as few words as possible whilst making a well-balanced proposition. At the moment I wonder if I may be being a little illusive and illusory, without the right balance of illustration.

The new book does require a fair amount of cerebral input from the reader but I have to be wary of asking too much, so as to make the story challenging but tempting at the same time. It is of course why I have beta readers but I owe them the courtesy of submitting as near to final draft copy as possible because those test readers represent my target audience.

A quick way to overcome clouded mind syndrome is to turn one’s attention to something else: something diverting and also requiring of thought. For my part, I either continue to write but in a different discipline, or I turn to one of my other pursuits, which also happens to be artistic. So I’ve pulled myself away from The Inner Leviathan temporarily, while I jot down my thoughts in the blog. After this I may write some poetry, some flash fiction, or indulge my other creative outlet of expression: modern art.

I’m a great appreciator and consumer of modern art. I visit Tate Modern regularly and follow the arts coverage in The Guardian closely, attending exhibitions when time and finances permit. Without consultation to a work of reference, I would list Jake and Dinos Chapman, Ron Muek and Olafur Eliasson among my favourites at the more pop end of the modern art spectrum. My interest has always been in the up and coming though: graduates from St Martins and so on. In the past I have procured works for modest sums from specialist galleries or the artists themselves. Some I treated as investments and sold when the artists became better known; others I have retained. 

I’ve produced works myself. All were private commissions, as is some of my writing but unlike the latter, art becomes the property of the commissioner. Now my few works are displayed in private homes. Without exception, the works were requests for me to express my feelings and my writing in another form. This is something I am also doing with the latest commission.

The latest piece currently exists as nothing more than a matt black frame, some sheets of fine art black paper and some sketches, all propped up against the wall next to the writing desk. This little space is coming to resemble an artist’s studio, as well as that of a writer. Whatever mode I’m in, it’s my cradle of filth. Many writers are also artists: that’s why one of my nearest reference books is The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook.

Part of the appeal of modern art for me is it’s invitation of interpretation. Modern art is especially subjective and what may appeal to one, might repulse another. It’s very much like writing. Like the writer, the artist sometimes has to take himself out of his comfort zone to produce something which affects him temporarily. I’m putting the finishing touches to this latest piece, then the whole thing will be assembled and will carry as many messages, undertones and suggestions as my writing. It’s going to be pretty expressive, controversial and beautiful at the same time, depending on your viewpoint. The real art is in the thought that’s gone into the work and the thoughts which it provokes.

The artwork is inspired by the two books I’ll be writing after The Inner Leviathan: Bloodstained Knaves and Paradoxica. A day spent in those places will clear my head and allow me to get back into the world of the current project and sate my beta readers.

Art for the deviants.

The story of the ink which runs beneath my skin

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MY WORLD

Yesterday I lost one of my few remaining virginities: I got tattoos. A simple procedure for most; more of a story for me. It’s the story of how the tattoos came to be in their final form and the thinking behind them. It’s the continuing story of me regaining independence, finding myself and expressing myself. Like all good writing, there is a sub-text in this story: an obvious one but one which I still practice conveying, for the parallels between real life and that which is imagined remain somewhat blurred. Don’t just give things a cursory glance: stop to think. Re-read and ask questions if necessary. Dare to confront things.

“One day soon I’m gonna tell the moon ’bout the crying game…”

I’m writing a book – three in fact – and today’s events have placed me well within one of my worlds: that of Bloodstained Knaves. That in itself is fine, as I do live my stories but today threw me straight into that book, having plucked me from The Inner Leviathan. I have been pulled out of a steam punk fantasy where things discover themselves and dumped in the middle of a post-Holocene world which struggles to find its own purpose.

The tattoos I’d chosen were typical and classic: my children’s names and dates of birth, one on each inner forearm. The tiny detail which makes an otherwise normal thing different and gives it a story is Helvetica. To my mind – and that of my tattooist – the application of a specific font lifted the tattoos beyond the typical and has produced a classic. Having spent most of my former working life in print, ink runs through me like blood. I remain a zombie, bitten by the great institution which was once the corporate finance print dealing desks in the city of London. Never one to run away from my past, like the safety pin in my ear as a nod towards punk, I am free to express myself, now in print upon my person. I need to be reminded.

Obviously a tattoo is indelible. It is a permanent reminder, not only of what is there but of what led to it being there: both a process. Some tattoos are in themselves a permanent reminder of something which perhaps shouldn’t have happened. They are there though, for that which has happened cannot be undone, one of many philosophies and paradoxes explored in my debut novel. That and so many other things, as I continue to learn for myself, as the author,  what that book was all about. During my hour or so spent in the tattooist’s studio, he and I discussed the subjects which I only touch upon in the book, in fairly lengthy detail. It was an engaging conversation which distracted from what may otherwise have been a rather mundane hour or so. Because the fact is, tattoos don’t hurt. Were it not for the tattoo artist verbally interacting with me, I might have drifted off. Perhaps to another world; maybe to this one, which is gaining pace, away from all but that which matters.

Helvetica is a widely used sans-serif typeface developed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger with input from Eduard Hoffmann…” You’ll see it all around you, if you look.

My world continues to evolve, the meteor storms which used to disrupt it, now merely an itch from a healing cut to the skin. The tattoos are my message to myself, as well as a sign to others. They are my past and now my future. They are a constant reminder of where I came from and what I did. The amount of thought which went into using the Helvetica typeface ought to be evident in the results, as has been noted by the few who have seen the two pieces of art which now adorn my arms. Because in specifying a font, I set the tattooist a challenge, perhaps not immediately obvious in the finished products. But the tattoos are not conventional. The story is what is hidden, behind the final product but upon gaining appreciation of that very thing, the observer immediately grasps the unseen craftsmanship that went into it.

I questioned my artist about his trade. I took an interest in it, as he did mine. The tattoos have taken on an even greater value now that I know what that guy did to produce them. By requesting a specific typeface, which is not one of those usual to names and dates of births, I had unknowingly denied the tattooist the use of a template. He had to download the Helvetica font, study every character which made up my tattoos and recreate them as hand-drawn art. By his own admission, each character was a challenge because they would all have to stand up to my scrutiny as someone familiar with print, design and typefaces. From my point of view, I wanted the lettering to be recognisable for what it is by others in the know.

My tattooist has proven himself to be a true artist because what he has produced on my arms are exactly as I imagined, through the expression of text alone. By using Helvetica. What I now have is something which is clearly a tattoo but which is essentially a computer font. Therefore, my tattoos look as though they were stencilled, branded, or printed directly onto me. Alternatively, they are a projection of dark light onto flesh. They really are a little disconcerting to the more enquiring mind, because they shouldn’t be there but were there all along: look at me, my marks and my writing, and question.

The tattoos are on public display but they’re intimate and personal: a million punctures in my skin, in order to display my patriarchal pride. Tattoos join body piercings and writing to make a trinity of personal expression. The tattoos add to a character, like one of the protagonists in Bloodstained Knaves, who young girls gravitate towards: an atheist, anarchist free spirit, who lives in a dangerous world full of things which the girls find enticing: drink, drugs, sex and violence; a cradle of filth. Photos of the place people come and of my tattoos are on my Facebook and Instagram pages.

Now I need to extricate myself from that world and place myself once more in the steam punk world of The Inner Leviathan, for that is the book which is flowing best. A few short stop offs on the way though, to finish some pulp fiction and short stories for print: Master Yehudi’s Space Circus, Mechanical Manacle and the fifth in the Paradox series, The Paradox of Perception. The fourth in the series is due for publication in Schlock webzine in two weeks, once the serialisation of the novel has finished its run.

Even before then, I have the pleasure of the company of one of my kid sisters today, while we sort out a prison visit and various other matters in her life. Next weekend I’ve facilitated a visit for one of the other youngsters. I shall be host to seventeen year old girls, who come here for all that this place has to offer, including somewhere to crash. They come here because it’s a cool place and somewhere they can they almost brag about having been because few get in.

Quiet most of the time and usually needing me only for the things which their real parents won’t or can’t give them, it’s always nice to get a random message from one of the girls. One of them took the trouble to text me yesterday, simply to say how sorry she was that she couldn’t see me, that she missed me and that she was still my little girl. I felt appreciated and proud of that young lady. Like all of them, if she needs me, she knows where I live.

The girls are relevant because, even though I don’t have their names tattooed upon my person, because they’re not my real children, the ones I’ve spoken to have expressed delight in the tattoos. Those girls don’t belong on my arm but they are present elsewhere in my body. They’re neither in my blood nor my ink but they are in my written words and therefore one of my trinity of self expression.

The tattoo bug will bite me too and I already have the next one planned: the family emblem; the pink heart. On my left hand, of course.